China: Grain to Pixel – Monash Gallery of Art Photo Show

Miss Wan Studies Hard by Chen Man
Grain to Pixel 1

Miss Wan Studies Hard, 2011. Photo: Chen Man. Reproduction courtesy the artist

A remarkable show at the Monash Gallery of Art in Victoria, traces the development of photography as an art form in China from the colonial days to the current era of digital re-imagining.

China: Grain to Pixel has 150 works, and is the first major show of its type to come to Australia.

It was put together by Liu Heung Shing, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, and his partner Karen James.

Double Life

Double Life, 2008. Photo: Li Jiahao. Reproduction courtesy Shanghai Center of Photography

Liu is also the founder of the Shanghai Centre of Photography.

“For too long, it has been a one-way street, where Western exhibitions come to China,” he says. “I want to send some exhibitions the other way. This exhibition tells the story of the evolution of modern China.”

Liu Heung Shing

Liu Heung Shing, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist

The early images are essentially documentary, posed and formal, although the artists made a point of getting out of the cities to show society from the ground level up.

The Communists realized propaganda value in photography, and the era saw plenty of factory workers and farmers staring stolidly towards a golden era that would never arrive.

Later photographers would take this as a starting point, and the result was a self-consciousness that is particular to the culture.

Mule and Girl by LI Qiang

Mule and Girl by LI Qiang

There are very few images of people smiling here: everyone knows this is a show and what part they are supposed to play.

This sense of performance continued as the economy switched to go-go capitalism and Chinese photography dived into the digital age.

The new technology was embraced but often with a sense of ambiguity.

In a remarkable image by Chen Man, Miss Han Studies Hard, a leggy beauty bicycles between the past and the future.

Zhang Hai’er captures images of girls who are too cool for school – indeed, too cool for anything.

Taking Down Mao by Luiu Heung Shing

Liu Hueng Shing provides an image Taking Down Mao in Tiananmen Square: deconstruction of the image, or the image of deconstruction?


Love letter No.9 by Jiang Zhi

China: Grain to Pixel is a complex, fascinating show. Its size and sweep requires attention, but it repays the effort with works by 70 Chinese photographers including: Chen Man, Cai Shanxiong, Han Lei, Jiang Zhi, Li Lang, Luo Dan, Liu Heung Shing, Yang Yongliang and Zhang Yaxin.

Derek Parker, Guest Author, Spotlight Stories, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

China: Grain to Pixel
Monash Gallery of Art

860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheeler’s Hill, Victoria, 3150

On Show until August 28, 2016


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